To begin, I offer the caveat that I have not worked in marketing for a number of years, and never in the entertainment industries.
However, this latest interview Jason Schreier had with Crystal Dynamics is rather perplexing. At this point, I am not sure if I am to be skeptical of the game, the marketing of the game, or both.
Regarding Ron Rosenberg’s statements that did include the word rape, Karl Stewart, the global brand director, said the following:
“He said something which is certainly a word that is not in our vocabulary and not in our communication,” Stewart told me on the phone yesterday. “He did say it… It’s his personal opinion and certainly… like I said, it’s not something that we communicate.”
This makes me wonder what I am supposed to make of this. If someone on your own team can have the ‘opinion’ that something is a sexually-charged assault, it seems quite reasonable to believe that people who are your audience would as well. At this point, if you did not intend it to be rape (which is not an argument I would find hard to buy based off that trailer alone), I believe it would be time to try and understand that viewpoint, because it is not something that will just vanish by saying you don’t call it rape, or that the company’s handbook does not include it in its verbs to use.
Here’s the thing: someone had to decide what to highlight in this trailer. The violence that Lara Croft supposedly faces at the end of that scene, which we don’t see in the trailer, ends with her being choked to death. And yet, Croft is still put in a situation where her sex matters. To quote:
Kotaku: Karl, do you think that a male protagonist in that same situation would have- do you think the scavenger would do the same thing, rubbing his hand against his thigh?
Stewart: No, of course not.
Which begs a number of questions. If it were a male protagonist and this happened, it would be almost impossible to deny there were sexual connotations to that touch. We are brought up to understand men don’t touch each other that way, because that is queer in some fashion. Women, however? They are of an entirely different set of expectations and how we may treat their bodies.
Regardless of what we call that sexually-charged moment (we could call it rape, sexual assault, or, as Stewart calls it, “close physical intimidation”), we do recognize what is going on in that moment: Lara Croft is being touched in a manner that is intimate and sexual in nature. Intimidation and sexuality are not mutually exclusive. Part of rape culture is that women are often intimidated by what they are told men will do to them unless they make sure to stay out of certain situations.
So, here we stand. As many have been saying, rape is not an uncommon trope to be used in media. And yes, it can be done in a way this is harrowing and respectful. So, either Crystal Dynamics is using the threat of rape to up the stakes on Lara Croft’s ‘development’ (and really, rape as an empowerment trope is not the way to tackle that subject matter), or it put this in the game, did not consider how this could be viewed (particularly by female gamers), and is now in a mire digging themselves into a hole of mixed messages and saying people are overreacting or blowing things out of proportion.
Which is a tactic being used by Ian Livingstone, the president of Eidos. As Alyssa Rosenberg points out, such a message can often be an indicator that this is a reaction that was not expected. It is at this point that Crystal Dynamics seems like they have the option of removing the content to just remove the controversy (and make their marketing team look rather blotchy in how they decided to highlight things), or owning up to what is happening and getting in front of the message. Saying it is ‘not rape’ and getting into arguments over semantics (because even if we go with intimidation, that still informs rape culture with how this has been gendered) is not the way to get in front of that message.
It might be trying to argue that in their dark and gritty remake of Lara Croft’s origin (and the dark and gritty trope is another thing to tackle in games), they wanted to recognize what women face in the world. How does that experience go? I haven’t played the game, and I couldn’t tell you. Is this a constant threat? Is this a one-time thing? Where is its placement in the game? How does that juxtapose with the oddly sexual-sounding grunts of pain and gasps we hear from Croft?
Or, is the sexual violence that is present to Croft’s character acknowledged in any way, or just beat down before it can be culminated?
Lara Croft has been a very sexualized figure. It is somewhat disheartening to think that someone, somewhere, would not have thought of how these things have a connotation beyond what their own (I’m am presuming mostly male) experiences would dictate.
N.B. Image courtesy of Darius Kazemi.